Monday, December 29, 2014

Cooking in December

A lot of new cooking was done in December. This was almost entirely due to the unbridled enthusiasm of the youngest Miss Stonethrower.

The first thing that she wanted was a Croquembouche. If you have watched Masterchef you would know what it is. This is a classic French dessert served at First Communions, Baptisms and weddings. A Croquembouche is conical and is made with either Choux Pastry buns or with Macrons which are stuck together with caramel. Choux Buns can be filled with a variety of flavored creams – chocolate and orange – being more popular.

At the center of the Croquembouche is a cone. I did not have one that could be used, so using old school card paper folded 4 times to get some strength and stability we made a cone. This we covered with aluminum foil which we oiled so that the caramel and Choux Buns would not stick. The filling was to be chocolate cream.

The Choux paste was made, the Buns piped out, egg washed and baked. This is where we had a technical problem. Unfortunately, the Choux Buns were not dry enough from the inside, so when they cooled, some of them deflated and fused. This caused a problem as the Chocolate Cream could not be piped into the Choux Bun as it had stuck together. Once the Choux Buns were baked and filled with the Chocolate Cream it was a simple assembly job of dipping the Choux Bun in Caramel and building up the cone.

I must say that for a first attempt the Croquembouche turned out well. It was a success, though not without its faults. All in all, we were pleased.

Macrons are a favorite dessert. The plan was to make plain Macrons i.e. without any flavor, but colored green. Yellow Lemon Cream would be sandwiched between two Macrons. Frankly Macrons are slightly trickier to make than Choux Buns. You need precise measurements for the weight of the ingredients, you need a thermometer to get sugar to exactly 118C and you need a stand mixer to make the meringue. To make the Lemon Cream you need to have a thermometer to ensure that you do not have scrambled eggs.

Macrons ideally, are best when made during the Mumbai `winter’. The humidity is lower so the Macrons remain in better shape and do not get soggy. This was the third attempt at Macrons. It was a grand success. The Macrons looked really good and tasted better.

Miss Stonethrower had eaten a Bacon Butty some months ago. She wanted to make them for lunch. According to her, a Bacon Butty has bacon [obviously] sandwiched between two slices of bread with Hollandaise Sauce and French Fries. This was a true heart attack on a plate. A true Bacon Butty has only Bacon between two slices of bread and is often eaten with HP Sauce. Anyway, we were game to make this extra rich version of Bacon Butty.

HRH the Queen of Kutch decided, after having been influenced by the meal we had at Borkonyha Wine Kitchen Budapest, to make a Squid Ink and Pistachio bread. So this was made. It looked really eerie, like a mutated monster. Black bread with lurid bright green Pistachio bits. Tasted great, looked scary.

For the meat in the sandwich we had two types of bacon; regular and so called `fatless’. This I put into a large frying pan with some water to render the fat. To this I added some sliced pork sausage and fried the whole lot in the rendered fat. In the interest of health the remaining fat was poured out.

We took a 500 gram pack of Amul Butter and set about clarifying it. Hollandaise and its sister sauce Béarnaise require clarified butter. A double boiler was set up and we stared making the Hollandaise. Hollandaise is a very trick and temperamental sauce. It splits. To quote Anthony Bourdain from his book `Le Halles Cookbook’ – “Know this. If you haven’t made Béarnaise from scratch before, you will surely fuck this sauce up. Don’t worry. Just do it again. This and Hollandaise, more than any other sauces, seem to smell fear and uncertainty.”

With this I started whisking the eggs. I added the now clarified butter drop by drop and kept whisking. With 3 eggs I was to use a lot of butter, but the words of Anthony Bourdain were ringing louder and louder with each addition of butter. I chickened out and stopped adding any more butter. The seasoning was adjusted and the sauce poured on top of the bacon. The Hollandaise was fine, really tasty; however, it was not light and airy. I think while I may have stopped it from splitting I had not added enough butter. But the sauce will be tried again. I have the remaining clarified butter resting in a plastic container in the fridge.

I survived the sandwich. I am staying far away from my cardiologist.

It’s been an exciting December.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ham - how to cook it at home.

December is a festive month. It is the time for eating and drinking and generally having a whale of a time. The weather is nice, people are happy and smiling, NRI’s are in town, restaurants are full; there are fairy lights all around. It is a good time to be in Mumbai.

For many years we cooked a ham at Christmas time. We had ham loving people over for dinner and what was left over was given to friends. Then, in 2009 we had to give our yearly ham party a miss as we were in the midst of shifting to our new home. For some reason, in December 2010 and for the next 3 years there was no ham made. This year we had to do it. December 20th 2014 was the dinner party with Ham as the centerpiece.

The first step to cooking a ham is buying a smoked uncooked ham. The Bombay Gymkhana and the Yacht Club cook and sell you ham. But getting an uncooked one is slightly trickier. In the very old days, when I was a hot shot lawyer travelling to Delhi, I used to get a ham from Pigpo a very famous Pork Shop at Jor Bagh in Delhi. They knew me as the `Bombay Ka Vakil’. I used to call them from Bombay, order the ham collect it on my way to Delhi Airport and pack it in my Pilots case. It fit perfectly. Then, for many years we got our hams from Anup Hukumchand’s shop Highland Cold Storage at Dadar. This time we decided to get the ham from Farm Products at Colaba. So an order was placed, and a deposit of Rs 500 was paid.

A cooked ham costs about Rs 2000 per kilo. So a 5 kg leg will set you back by Rs 10,000/- An uncooked ham costs Rs 650/- per kilo. Not only does it make sense buying and cooking your own ham from a purely economic perspective, and, you can get far better results doing it yourself.

On the given day we drove to the shop selected a 5.5kg smoked uncooked leg and asked them to debone it for us. Once that was done the ham was tied securely, packed and the resulting 5 kg ham was carried back. The car smelt lovely with the aroma from the smoke.

Saturday morning, the day of the party, I pulled out the large aluminum ham `pateli’ we bought years ago just to cook a ham, washed it and set it on the gas. Water, cloves, bay leaves, star anise and some peppercorns went in and finally the ham. Instead of water you could use beer or apple concentrate. Beer has become so expensive and apple concentrate is difficult to get. Earlier we got it from the Himachal Pradesh Emporium at World Trade Centre at Colaba. Water works just fine. Cover and put to boil. Once the pot comes to a boil you simmer it for an hour per two kilos or half an hour for a kilo turning the ham after every hour or so. Once done you pull it out of the water. By now the ham is fully cooked and ready to eat.

Then, it is time to prepare the ham for the next stage, baking and glazing. To do this you first take of the skin. This is simple; the skin comes off quite easily. The tip of a knife helps the parts that are stubborn. Once the skin is off, you score the fat in a diamond pattern and stud each diamond with a clove.

The glaze we made was Port wine, honey, brown sugar and a dash of vinegar. You could simply use sugar and smear it on the fat. Choice is yours. You pour on half the glaze and put the ham into an oven pre heated to 180C for about an hour. Every 15 minutes you baste the ham. After 30 minutes you pour on the rest of the glaze. An hour later you have a beauty.

Slicing a ham is difficult if it is hot. Serving the ham at room temperature is perfectly acceptable. It slices well. This was had with lashings of Mustard and Potato Au Gratin. It was a wonderful meal. It was a wonderful evening.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cafe Sundance Mumbai. Really avoid this place

We do not like to eat at new or moderately new restaurants. They are overhyped, serve poor imitations and often bastardisations of classic dishes [add cheese add chilli] and are never grounded. They have either a group of investors or have an entrepreneur who is masquerading as a restaurateur.

One such place is Cafe Sundance in the Eros Cinema building at Churchgate. HRH the Queen of Kutch has been complaining that I am unadventurous and only want to go to `the same five and a half restaurants’. She had wanted to eat at Sundance Cafe and I had been resisting. I gave in on Friday 12th December. Mistake, bad mistake.

After downing a few beers and whiskeys at the Bombay Gymkhana, very cheap as you know, it was time for dinner. So we hailed a taxi [simple black and yellow, smelly, dirty, dusty, rattly with a cranky driver] we reached the Sundance Cafe at 9.15 on a Friday night in December during the festive and NRI season. The place was empty. Just two other tables were occupied. We should have walked out. A restaurant in such dire straits during peak dining time is a bad sign. Signal one ignored.

Menus were placed printed on card paper, dog eared, and frayed on the edges and with lots of food stains. Scanning the drinks menu HRH the Queen of Kutch asked for a Glenfiddich, I asked for a beer. After taking the order the server comes by and says they have no, repeat no, single malts. So she settles for a beer. Signal two ignored.

We ordered a starter, more about that later, a Tenderloin Burger and a Ham and Cheese sandwich was ordered for our mains. The order included potato so we asked for a portion of French Fries and a portion of Potato Wedges.

Before we could say Jack Robinson, the Ham & Cheese Sandwich arrived. Yup. Before the starter. We returned the sandwich with a warning to not serve the same sandwich again later but to ask the kitchen to prepare a new one. We again requested that the starter be served. Signal three ignored.

Normally three strikes and you are out. But the ordeal continued, now with an amusing twist.

Soon enough the starter arrived. This was Pork Belly Tortillas which are described in the menu thus - “Mini tortillas, slow roasted pork belly, guacamole and tomato salsa.” This is what we got. Clearly no slow roasted pork belly but bacon. Yes yes I know that streaky bacon is from the belly of a pig, but this was bacon for Christ’s sake not slow roasted pork belly. Obviously the kitchen had no pork belly. We did not return the dish for mis description but proceeded to eat it. It was fine but it was not what was described on the menu. Signal four ignored.

This is Bacon not Slow Roast Pork Belly

Then the Burger and Sandwich arrived with the two potato sides namely a portion of French Fries and a portion of Potato Wedges. The potato wedges were ice cold. I requested that they be removed and a hot portion be served. The staff readily obliged. Problem was that the Potato Wedges were ghastly. They had what appeared to me to be Maharashtrian Goda Masala more than liberally sprinkled on them. I hated them and left them uneaten. As far as the French Fries are concerned, this was a new low. By far the worst French Fries are served at Totos Garage. These were worse. Left uneaten. Signal five ignored.

Potato Wedges

The Burger had a patty that was small, tasteless and totally overcooked. I do not mind it being overcooked in India. I would be very wary to eat a medium [red in the middle] mince meat patty in India purely on account of health and hygiene. The problem we have is that our beef [buffalo] is very lean; hence getting moistness in a burger patty is difficult. So to that extent I do not blame Sundance Cafe for the poor quality of burger at the price Rs 475/- ++. The best burger by far is the one at The Table but that costs an eye popping Rs 1,200/- ++. The Indigo Deli also does a Burger at Rs 585/- ++. But, I am conflicted. Should lesser money mean worse food? I am not really sure how to answer this. .

The Ham & Cheese Sandwich at Rs 425/ ++ was unremarkable. You could make this at home. It had nothing going for it.

When we got the bill they had cheekily added 5% service charge. We refused to pay this. So we got a discount of Rs 160/- In any event the bill came to Rs 1800/- for two beers and the food I have mentioned. Absolute waste of money. We came away angry, and hungry. The restaurant never filled up. Clearly it is dying.

To conclude, do not go there. If you want a burger, and I am not being facetious, have one at Dunkin Donuts. Much much better and far cheaper.

It was entirely HRH the Queen of Kutch’s fault.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Our experiments with Amla

A couple of days ago I had gone to Crawford Market to replenish some essentials. Stuff like, Gruyere cheese from Narayan Stores, Barilla pasta from Empire Stores [thankfully Barilla is back on the shelves] Pine Nuts from Regal Dry Fruit and booze from Shah Wines. I also stopped off at our regular vegetable vendor. One of them is a delightful father and son duo. They specialise in only, funnily enough, tomato, beet, carrot and mint. Sometimes they have an odd additional vegetable that is in season. They also own the stall next door which they have given on rent to a Keralite who specialises in `English’ vegetables – capsicum, parsley, Bok Choy, Basil, tofu, mushroom celery and the like. I know tofu is not a vegetable!

After getting a kilo of tomato, the old man told me that he had really excellent `Avla’ which is Marathi for Amla or Indian Gooseberry. I was not really interested, but he was insistent and said that they were top quality, his final clinching words being, and I kid you not `ekdum goad aahet’ or they are very sweet. I knew that this was a fib, but what the heck I thought, won’t hurt buying a few so I bought a half kilo.

Now Amla is something that much is made of. It is a pale green hard fruit about the size of a large strawberry. It has no aroma, and it has a seed in the centre. Here is an image from the internet.

Amla is healthy, seriously healthy. It can cure everything; AIDS, coughs colds, indigestion, probably Ebola, definitely weakness which probably euphemistically means it has Viagra like properties. Suffice to say, Amla is a super food. A cursory check on the internet like this link will lead you to the wondrous virtues of Amla.

For three days the Amla sat on the kitchen platform, ignored. Finally, HRH the Queen of Kutch scoured the internet on how to make the elixir Amla juice hoping that the process would be simple and the Amla would be dealt with. We were in luck. It was dead easy. Simply chop the Amla to get rid of the hard seed, pop the chopped Amla into a blender and blend away. Once done you can drink the juice.

So the Amlas were chopped, de-seeded and put in our industrial strength Preethi blender, added a few cubes of ice so we would have a chilled drink, and let it rip. 500 grams of Amla yielded 460 grams of de-seeded Amla and when blended two reasonably full glasses of Amla juice. Looks delightful and has a lovely cool green colour.

With some trepidation I took a sip. It was sour, very sour, but drinkable. Armed with the knowledge that Amla was only good we proceeded to drink our glasses of juice.

After drinking, I did not feel particularly better or healthy. The legendry Amla’s curative powers were not yet evident. I thought it was probably slow acting. I am more used to alcohol which makes me feel better within 15 minutes of drinking some. But then alcohol is bad, it is a poison, it ruins your life. Amla is all goodness.

But dear readers, I must tell you that Amla finally acted. Both HRH the Queen of Kutch as well as myself were hit by a particularly bad episode of `loose motions’ or diarrhoea, a distinctly un-regal problem. By 8 pm some 3 hours after drinking the juice our bowels were empty. We were worn out.

Yes, Amla is a super food. Except that we are not going to have it ever again.

You can keep your super foods. They are not for us.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Reclaim the streets. Are you completely nuts?

It is only if you live under a stone or in South Mumbai would you not know about this ridiculous new campaign `Reclaim the Streets’. You can read a glowing self congratulatory report here.

I am totally disgusted, angry and cannot for the life of me understand the logic of this campaign.

For all under the stone dwellers and ignoramus South Mumbai kars, this is a new initiative that has been started by “NGOs, think tanks, citizens' associations and cycling groups” The campaign is sponsored by the Times of India. This ensures inordinate publicity. The campaign runs till 31st May 2015.

What happens is that the stretch of Linking Road heading South is closed for traffic from the HP Petrol Pump at the start of Turner Road all the way up to Santa Cruz. This happens every Sunday morning from 7 am to 11 am. This is the street that is `reclaimed’. On this portion you have thousands, yes thousands of Bandraites and sundry other people who had got into their cars bright and early on a Sunday morning and turned our entire area into one big parking lot. All these people with their wives and children had come to this stretch of road to cycle, skate, walk or simply hang out and ‘be seen’. There are thankfully no food stalls of any kind. It was just idle folks with idle children thronging the streets looking pleased with themselves.

As you can imagine, traffic is horrendous. Only one half of this main road is operational. No right turns are allowed leading to huge jams. So on one side you have masses of families and kids and louts and layabouts strolling or cycling or skating on the road and on the other side you have a traffic jam and the resultant carbon monoxide helping gas these layabouts to death. Wonderful idea.


If you really wanted to reclaim things reclaim the parks overrun by debris, pimps and drug pushers. Reclaim foot paths overrun by hawkers and debris and thrash. Reclaim the beaches from the louts and trash. Reclaim the promenades. These are all designed specifically for the purpose of recreation and pedestrians. This is where all the walkers and cyclists and skaters should be. Every day. Not just on Sundays.

I really cannot understand what is happening.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The rich, subsidies, Clubs and `cheap food'. Think about this.

You would recall the debates of a few months ago. Why should there be a subsidy on diesel? It was a national shame that a lot of subsidised diesel was used to run luxury automobiles. Thus the subsidy (i) was generally useless to those who required it, and (ii) those who could well afford to pay full price for diesel got it at a subsidised price.

This paradox is, and has been, existing with Clubs all over the country more so in the metropolitan cities where land rentals are high.

Before I go further a few disclosures and disclaimers:

1         I am a member of the Royal Bombay Yacht Club [RBYC] and the Bombay Gymkhana.

2      This post is based on the RBYC as I have accurate and up to date information on hand. The principle is almost exactly the same at all the other Mumbai clubs be it the Willingdon Sports Club or the venerable Bombay Gymkhana and many others.

3        I am not picking on the RBYC – see explanation (2) above.

4         No I am not am being facetious, I am deadly serious.

5.   This post requires some concentration when reading

The Bombay Port Trust [BPT] is one of the largest landowners in Mumbai. BPT owns the land on which the RBYC is located. A Judgement of the Supreme Court has recorded some fascinating facts, which I am taking the liberty of reproducing here. If you would like to read the entire Judgement click here.

“The Bombay Port Trust Estate, admeasuring around 720 hectares (1800 acres approx.) of land is a huge stretch from Colaba to Raoli Junction, including Pir Pau, Butcher Island, land at Titwala and other islands. The population is highly urbanized and dense. Out of the total area of 720 hectares the area under the jurisdiction of Estate Department of the BPT is around 336 hectares. Out of these, 306 hectares of area is occupied by the lessees of BPT holding leases of various tenures.

There were about 600 lessees. The lessees could broadly be divided into three categories – monthly or annual lessees, 15 years’ terms lessees, and 99 years’ or long term lessees, with or without clauses for renewal.

In case of monthly or annual leases, the municipal taxes are borne by the BPT, while in cases of 15 years term and long terms leases, the liability to pay municipal taxes is with the lessees. The BPT Estate cannot be sold; it is all held out on leases excepting for the land in the use of the Port and for Port activities i.e. for the self requirement of the BPT. Leases were created long back, some of which being around a century old.

In the year 1962, the World Bank advised BPT that its rate of return on its real estate was hopelessly inadequate and needed to be reviewed. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India too, in his report of the year 1979-80, shared the opinion of the World Bank and highlighted the obligation on the part of the trustees to secure a fair and reasonable revenue for its estate so as to attend better to its manifold public duties.

When the private landlords are making money in the commercial capital city of Bombay, there is no reason why the Bombay Port Trust should be kept pegged down to abysmally low rates of rent which were settled decades before and at a point of time when in Bombay the land was available for occupation more or less like just a bounty of nature and people were being persuaded and encouraged by holding out incentives to come to Bombay and settle there. He submitted that the Bombay Port Trust has to manage and administer a huge port, most vital to the industrial and economic life of the nation, and it needs money for funding its activities. Every additional penny earned by Bombay Port Trust has to be and is spent for public good and the increase in rent would augment the resources of the Bombay Port Trust and thereby strengthen its hands in rendering better service to the nation.”

The President of The RBYC has just sent a circular where he says that the Club is now paying Rs 1,79,544.46/- as lease rent per month. Do read the circular especially the highlighted portions. You could download the circular by clicking here.

This is for lease of the land on which the Club building stands. The Club is a building of Ground plus five floors with a floor area of 7000 sq feet per floor which totals 42,000 sq feet. I am assuming that the size of the land would be 2 ½ times the size of a floor so it would be approximately 17,500 square feet. A simple back of the envelope calculation will reveal that the lease rent for the land is a paltry Rs 10.25 per sq foot per month. If one were to take the area of the building the rent is an equally paltry Rs 4.27 per square foot per month. Rents for commercial space at Nariman Point are anywhere between Rs 150 – Rs 250 per sq foot per month. This, of course, is for built up space not land. My point is mentioning all this is to give you some kind of idea of how utterly unrealistic is the rent the RBYC is paying to the BPT.

Herein lies the rub.

The members of the RBYC are amongst the richest and most prominent industrialists and professionals in Mumbai – the Godrejs, the Ambanis and the Premjis, just to name a few. The other members of the RBYC are certainly not by any stretch of imagination amongst the poor who require subsidies. The irony is, almost all yacht owners, who are by no means poor are members of the RBYC. It is after all the Yacht Club.

Mind you, I must point out that the RBYC probably has the smallest leased land among the Mumbai clubs. The Cricket Club of India, the venerable Bombay Gymkhana, the Hindu, Islam and Parsee Gymkhanas all have cricket fields, tennis courts, and, much larger grounds. The Willingdon Club has a golf course for God’s sake! The Royal Western India Turf Club has an entire horse racing track. The Breach Candy Club has large lands and pools. The land owners in these clubs is probably the Collector of Bombay or the State Government and not the BPT. But just think about how much land is involved and how paltry the rents are. Also remember, members in all these clubs are India’s richest individuals. At the Turf Club you could count the Singhanias the Jains of Bennett Coleman, the now not so rich Dr Vijay `Willful Defaulter’ Mallya, Dr Poonawalla and other horse owners as members.

The Club inducts new members at Rs 12 lakhs as shown on their website. I do not believe the poor and downtrodden are becoming members at this rate even though, as members, they will get ‘cheap’ food and drink. Rooms are let out at rates between Rs 3000 – Rs 6000. So, letting out a single room for Rs 6000 for an entire month garners the RBYC more revenue than the lease rental for the month for the whole premises. You could have a look at their website by clicking here.

When an organisation pays rent which is unrealistically low, its running costs are obviously low. Therefore, the food and drink served is regarded as ‘cheap’. There are 2 reasons why it is ‘cheap’. Firstly, because the rents are unrealistic and, secondly, the Club does not operate for profit, but charges its members just enough to cover costs. I must also point out that the entrance fees paid at the time you are admitted as a member are capitalised by clubs. So, today Clubs have healthy a corpus which is invested resulting in decent interest income. This too helps offset costs. 

You may well ask what does `cheap’ mean. Let me give you just two examples. A standard Kingfisher beer 330 ml will cost you inside Rs 95/- at the RBYC. The same beer will cost you Rs 200 at Toto’s Bar at Bandra one of the `cheaper’ bars in Bombay. Though I doubt any of the Godrejs would grace Toto with their presence but would surely quaff a beer or two at the RBYC. A Sada Dosa at the Bombay Gymkhana costs Rs 35/- and the most expensive a Cheese Masala Dosa costs Rs 60/- I checked the menu just this morning. A Masala Dosa would cost you Rs 55/- at Poornima, an Udipi restaurant in Fort [non air conditioned and self service complete with `finger paani’]. A two egg plain omelette costs Rs 30/- at the Bombay Gymkhana while the most expensive is the Cheese Omelette at Rs 40/- These are really cheap, as cheap as at an Udipi restaurant. Would any of our rich and famous Bombay Gym or RBYC members eat at an Udipi that is full priced, albeit, at the same price as a subsidised Club? No. But they are happily chomping down hugely subsidized Dosas and eggs in the classy environs at the Club. 

Once you have read the prices I am sure you are not feeling too happy about the dinner your pal treated you to at the Club. It was equivalent to taking you to an Udipi for the amount he spent!! Probably, without doubt the cheapest booze outside of home. 

So, on the one hand, we rich members enjoy the privilege of ‘cheap’ food and drink, the Bombay Port Trust and the Collector of Mumbai which renders service to our country has to suffer and get a paltry return for its lands. If the Government raises taxes to build or maintain infrastructure we all crib and make all kinds of intellectual arguments ranging from the ludicrous `Mumbai should keep the taxes it pays for its own development’, to `paying taxes is such a waste, it is only used in government salaries’. So paying taxes is a pain for us even though we are often the very same people who have caused the Government to fall into neglect.

You may well be outraged by my trend of thought and say that clubs are not only about `cheap’ food and drink. Really? Do have a look at any clubs accounts. The biggest revenue is from food and drink, never sports for which the club got its original land on a cheap lease.

Can you imagine [other things being equal] if the Bombay Port Trust received realistic rents how good our port infrastructure could be? All of us who are members of these ‘elite’ clubs can easily afford to pay more, far more, for the food and drink at the clubs we go to. I am not suggesting here that Clubs suddenly become profit centres, but surely paying commercial or realistic rents and appropriately charging members who can afford the charge is only but fair.

Why should a Club which has, and takes pride in having, Members who are the elite of society not pay commercial rents to a Government?

Makes no sense to me. Maybe I am missing something here. But then, I am only a minority, a miniscule minority willing to pay full price for what I can afford.

You may well ask me what my position is. Well here goes:

  • I believe realistic rents should be charged by the land owners.
  • The concept of not operating at a profit must continue.
  • If costs go up, which they are bound to, members should have the right to transfer memberships and appropriate a premium for the membership.
  • Transfers will help members who may want to exit if things become unafforadble. Today clubs have huge memberships but a very small number use the club, even for `cheap' food and drink.
  • All transfers will be approved by the balloting committee of the clubs so that quality, ethos profile and so on can be maintained.
  • The corpus could continue to be built up by charging the incoming transferee a fee.
  • Clubs should have a maximum number of members, no new members should be allowed unless the number falls below the threshold.
  • I believe this will really revitalise clubs. You will have real members who really use the club leading to more revenue better planning and simply more consistent experiences for all concerned.

I am sure there will be many counter arguments to this blog, and I would really like to see other point of view on this. Do post your views.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Meaning? Abbreviations? Information?

Let us start with a simple one. Most of you will know this. JMD. What does JMD stand for? Well it is Jai Mata Di. Pray, who is Jai Mata Di? I did not know. Yes, l am an ignoramus. I looked it up on Google. Jai Mata Di, for fellow ignoramus is the Goddess at Vaishono Devi. Thus, I presume the guys who own JMD Auto are followers or believers of Vaishno Devi.

JMD is also the acronym for Jamaican Dollar. But that is not of any relevance.

Now for something more difficult. What does KGN stand for? I see this all over, and written in Green. The answer folks, obtained not by looking it up on Google, but, by asking the riskshaw driver, is Khawja Garib Nawaz of Ajmer. So presumably, a rickshaw with KGN on its windshield is owned by a believer of Khawja Garib Nawaz of Ajmer.

Now let us change tack a bit. Have you ever wondered what you will do with that stunning bit of information, so cheerfully dished out by a dulcet voiced air hostess when you land at your destination? Unless you are deaf you must have heard, `Bahar ka taapman pachees degree sell sious hai’ or its equivalent in English “the outside temperature is 12 degrees”.

Once you hear this nugget you look at your fellow passenger and appropriately wiggle your eyebrows or make believe that you are shivering [depending of course on the temperature proclaimed]. Is that the real reason to make this announcement? To build camaraderie after spending so much time sitting so uncomfortably close to your fellow passenger? Is it to check if you are alive and not succumbed to deep vein thrombosis sitting still for so long?

I really have no clue as to what you will do with that nugget of information. I mean, you are in an aircraft. Your suitcases are in the hold and you will not get them till you are in the baggage reclaim area. You are wearing what you are, you may just have warm clothes [if you are travelling to a cooler place] with you on board. If it is colder than you estimated, what will you do? Refuse to leave the plane? Flitch the blanket? What? If it is warmer than you thought will you undress? You will do nothing. You will simply absorb that useless pointless information.

But, I still wonder why they insist on telling you this. Sometimes, it is the pilot, in whose hands you had placed your life, who will drone on in his conversation that the temperature is 12 degrees or whatever and it is sunny.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park

This blog is written by HRH The Queen of Kutch.

Let’s be honest, there are not many reasons one would voluntarily visit Vadodra, or for that matter, any other city in Gujarat. Sure, a visit to the Rann of Kutch is on the cards and, maybe, at a pinch the Gir Forest. And, since temple hopping is not my thing, Gujarat really held no fascination for me for all these years. Yes, the ‘development model’ of Gujarat has been hotly debated in the recent past as have the horrors of Godhra. No, Gujarat was not high on my to-do list by a long mile.

But, life suddenly threw a curve ball and I found myself in Vadodra with the best part of the day to kill on my own. And what a day of discovery it turned out to be. Unexpectedly, one of the best days I have had in a long while – perhaps because there were no expectations.

Armed with hastily scribbled notes after a quick hour of scouring the internet, I set off for Champaner Pavadagh Archeological Park, 50 kms from Vadodra that has in the recent past, risen like a phoenix. Champaner is a large sprawling area at the base of Pavagadh Hill. Both are dotted with monuments, forts, mosques, step wells as well as Hindu and Jain temples.

The history of Champaner is fascinating. Founded in the 8th Century during the Chavda dynasty, the name Champaner is often attributed to the limestone rocks of Pavagadh, whose light yellow color tinged with red gives the appearance of the champaka, or “flame of the forest” flower. The city and Champaner and the surrounding hills of Pavagadh were seen as strategically important and were soon captured by the Rajputs who ruled Champaner for over 200 years. Several Sultans attempted to capture the Kingdom of Champaner but it was all the way in the 14th Century Mahmud Begada who succeeded, after laying siege to the city for twenty months. He renamed the city Muhammadabad, made it his capital and spent 23 years renovating and enhancing it. He painstakingly rebuilt an entire city at the foothills of Pavagadh.

Champaner’s time as capital was not long, however, as the Mughal Emperor Humayun conquered the city in 1535 and moved the capital back to Ahmedabad.

For the next four centuries, the city was in a decline and when the British took control of the area in beginning of the 19th century, the city was almost completely overgrown and practically reclaimed by the surrounding forests with a population of only 500.

It is only in the last 20 odd years that the site received attention by archaeologists and Heritage Trusts working in the area to develop it into a tourist attraction and a World Heritage Site. In July 2004, UNESCO inscribed the site on the World Heritage List with the justification of its “joint significance as a living Hindu pilgrimage centre, its cluster of Jain temples, its remarkable preserved medieval urban fabric, its exquisite sandstone-carved mosques and tombs and its intangible heritage values.

The drive from Vadodra to Champaner was an absolute pleasure. Superb roads, minimal traffic and from what I could see, fairly decent signage. Gujarat model? The roads were infinitely better than the tracks we have in Mumbai.

It was about 11 am and looking at the time, I decided to first visit the Pavagadh hill and finish my uphill trek while it was still relatively cool, before I explored the plains of Champaner.

The Pavagadh hill composed of reddish-yellow coloured stone formation is one of the oldest rock formations in India. The hill rises to a height of nearly 800 m and is home to the 10th-11th century temple dedicated to Lakulisa. Today, all that is left of the temple is the sanctum sanctorum and a small foyer, but it remains a major place of worship.

Lakulisa Temple at Pavagadh

I had the option of walking up from Champaner to Pavagadh which would have taken me a couple of hours or take the ropeway which would get me up in a mere 6 minutes. I decided to take the ropeway up and then walk on the way down. To say I had my heart in my mouth on the way up is an understatement. The incline is very very steep. The squeaks and creaks and groans of the cables were disturbing and having my fellow passengers talk about the major accident a year ago made me think twice about my decision. But, God is Great and I got to the top in the scarily long 6 minutes.

Creaky cabin

Scary steep ropeway

Unfortunately, there was nothing to really catch my eye once I got there, except for lines of tacky stall selling knick-knacks and soft drinks and scores of worshippers walking barefoot to the Mahakali Shaktipeeth some 250 steps up from the plateau where the ropeway dropped me. A few quick photographs and I was ready to run away. Not quite the start I had hoped for and my spirits sank imagining of what lay in store for me in Champaner.

Mahakali Temple

However, halfway down the hill I came upon the magnificent Saat Kaman and my spirits soared. Saat Kaman or Seven Arches is an inexplicable thing of beauty in the middle of absolutely nowhere. No signage, no indicators and no people. If you aren’t looking for it, you will never know it’s there.

Saat Kaman or seven arches

This became the theme for the rest of the monuments in Champaner. Nothing at all to indicate they exist and absolutely no people. I have never ever been to any place of tourist interest in India that is not filled with people. Look at all my pictures. Not a single person anywhere. At some point I felt like an explorer blazing new trails.

With a renewed sense of enthusiasm I peeled my eyes for the Bawaman Mosque which is close to the base of Pavagadh Hill. This was the only place I visited that had an actual caretaker. He was happy to show me around and kindly gave me directions to all the other places I wanted to see. A word of caution, do not believe anyone who says all the monuments are close by and a short walk from one another. It’s almost impossible to get around without your own transport.

Bawaman Masjid

Ornate Mihrab [prayer niche]

The next was the absolutely gorgeous Jami Masjid. This mosque dates back to 1513 and is a place of pilgrimage for those who seek blessings from the pir who is buried in one corner of the mosque gardens.

Jami Masjid

This mosque along with all the other monuments in Champaner is a brilliant example of the coming together of Hindu and Islamic architecture. While the actual worship hall is typically Arabic in style with its 176 columns, the pavilions, jalis and chatris show the strong presence of Hindu masons and architects are typical of the Gujarat style of architecture. The mosque even has an ablution tank which is in the octagonal kund shape found in Hindu places of worship.

Carving on the inside of the Central Dome

Octagonal ablution tank

From there, I went along a dirt road barely wide enough for a car to Kevda Masjid. According to one historian, 'nature was integrated into the Kevda mosque's architecture in a way that was unusual for the Islamic world'.

Kevda Masjid

Ornate Jali work

Cenotaph open on all four sides

Nature was indeed attempting to reclaim the path to Nagina Masjid and abandoning the car at Kevda Masjid, I walked along a narrow dirt path to the absolutely awe inspiring Nagina Masjid. This was my favourite monument of the lot. Built of white stone, Nagina Masjid is a large monument built on a very high plinth with a large open yard in the front. A well preserved Cenotaph lies to one side of the mosque.

Nagina Masjid

Well preserved Cenotaph

At Lila Gumbaj ki Masjid, I was able to climb up a dark circular stairwell all the way up to the terrace of the higher dome. The views from this height were spectacular.

Lila Gumbaj Ki Masjid

The other monuments I visited were the The Dargah of Sakar Khan, the Helical Step Well, the Kabutarkhana and Ek Minara Masjid.

Dargah of Sakar Khan
Ek Minara Masjid

Helical Step Well

A day of beauty and discovery. Absolutely worth a visit, especially now, when all the monuments are absolutely deserted.

Do go before the crowds discover the beauty of Champaner. Do take along some water and a packed lunch because there are absolutely no stalls/shops or any form of tourist infrastructure in most of Champaner. There are also no signs or directions, but the local people are very helpful and will happily point you in the right direction.